On Friday 3rd March 1779 The New Burying Ground was formally announced to the public.  “The Public are now informed that the Burying Ground near the Poor House is now ready, and that Messers. Robert Stevenson, William Clark, and John Caldwell are appointed to agree with such persons who wish to take lots.”[1] It was primarily set up as a means to raise funds for the Charitable Society by providing a steady income.  Initially all plots had to be purchased but by April 1799 the committee agreed to set some of the ground aside “for interring such poor persons as may die not having funds for their interment”[2]. The graveyard was well-kept with beautiful planting and good security from the feared body-snatchers, it became a fashionable place to be buried in.  Many of the famous and infamous of Belfast are buried there; Henry Joy and Mary Anne McCracken, Dr William Drennan, Edward Benn, to name just a few.  There were also the poor and nameless who died penniless, or as part of the larger outbreaks of disease and famine.  All of the names recorded each have their own stories to tell and represent part of the social history of Belfast.[3]

I came across four items as part of the archive which tell an interesting story relating to the New Burying Ground in 1838.  James Luke Esq commissioned Edmund Getty to build an Egyptian mausoleum to commemorate his deceased family members.  Unfortunately Edmund Getty died before the mausoleum was completed.  I found a letter by J.W.P. Jackson, a Belfast based architect, who took over the management of the construction.  In January 1838 Jackson wrote to James Luke to tell him the mausoleum was completed.   He explained that it was built from Glasgow stone and gave advice on how to maintain the stone by giving it coats of linseed oil to prevent it from becoming green or being damaged by weather.

Attached to the letter was a painting and a piece cut out from a newspaper.  According to the letter, it had been agreed by Mr Getty to send a picture to James Luke when the mausoleum was finished. “As at the time Wm Getty stated his intention of sending you a drawing of the monument on its completion, I wish to carry out his intentions in that respect and accordingly by the same I furnish you with a sketch of the same.”

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Letter  and watercolour by J.W.P Jackson to James Luke 1838

The letter was sent to James Luke who was in Paris at the time.  Also attached to the letter was the cheque for £126 0s 0d for the erecting and finishing of the mausoleum which was a huge sum of money considering the purchase of the plot was £12 12s 0d, the most expensive option at the time.

Research has managed to find the newspaper article belongs to the Belfast Newsletter from 31st December 1857 under the title “Local Intelligence.” The building of such a grand and large mausoleum was obviously newsworthy at the time.  The newspaper article gives the full details of the mausoleum.  “From the basement of the mausoleum three or four courses rise, progressing in the manner of steps until the base of the solid obelisk is attained, the apex of which rises to an elevation of about eighteen feet, and can be readily seen from the Antrim Road.”[4]  It really was a magnificent sight within the graveyard which still has some fantastic monuments and headstones.  Whether you are researching your family tree or searching for the public figures from the 18th and 19th centuries, the cemetery is a fascinating visit.  Clifton Street Cemetery (as it is now known) currently managed by Belfast City Council and can be accessed by contacting the Cemeteries and Crematorium Central Office.

And what of James Luke?  According to the register he passed away in London in 1863.

October 3

James Luke

(Debility)

Aged 79

Bank Director

London

Born in Warring Street, Belfast

Wall Lot Grave Number 34[5]

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate an obituary for James Luke which seems unusual given his mausoleum attracted media attention, however the key for his mausoleum remain the in the custody of the Belfast Charitable Society.

Foot Notes

[1] Belfast Newsletter, 3rd Mar. 1797, P3.

[2] MS 1 1799 Committee Minutes from Belfast Charitable Society Archive.

[3] A register of interments started in 1831.

[4] Belfast Newsletter, 31st Dec. 1857, P2.

[5 New Burying Ground Register, available from http://cliftonstreetcemetery.com/ (accessed on 15th October 2015.